Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Forgotten Ones

Los Olvidados; drama, Mexico, 1950; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Alfonso Mejía, Roberto Cobo, Stella Inda, Miguel Inclán, Alma Delia Fuentes

The slums of Mexico City: poverty caused groups of kids to rob people and turn to criminal activity. El Jaibo, a teenage delinquent who escaped from jail, returns as the head of one these gang and they plan to steal the money of a blind man singing on the street, but he stops them and hits the leg of one of them. As a revenge, Jaibo and his gang follow the blind man and later beat him up. Jaibo blames his prison sentence  to Julian and thus kills him, thinking the latter is a snitch. The murder is witnessed by Pedro, Jaibo's gang member. Jaibo visits the Pedro's poor family because he is attracted to Pedro's widowed mother. Pedro finds a job at a blacksmith, but when a silver knife is stolen, Pedro is blamed and sent to a farm school. Pedro is aggressive, but the principal gives him 50 pesos to buy him cigarettes, in order to build his trust. On his way, Pedro is robbed by Jaibo, who also stole the knife. Later, Jaibo kills Pedro. In an ambush, the police shoot Jaibo.

Often regarded by film critics as one of the finest movies of Mexican cinema of the 20th century, Luis Bunuel's "The Forgotten Ones" is a dark and depressive social drama that realistically takes a glimpse at the theme of poverty, which is even more intense since it is shown from the perspective of children and teenagers. Congruent with such an unglamorous topic, Bunuel crafted a blunt, direct, almost explicit film in order to show such reality without any "false idealism": teenage delinquent Jaibo and his gang want to rob a blind man, and later do not even hesitate to beat him up; Pedro's mother says this to the surprised civic service officer: "Why should I love my son? I don't even know who his father is."; Jaibo gropes and forcefully wants to kiss a girl, Meche, while her brother does not care when he hears his sister screaming while working outside; a kid drinks milk directly from the udder of a donkey in a farm.

The only break from this reality is Pedro's surreal dream, filmed in slow motion, which hints at the director's frequent fascination with fantasy as the escape from depression. Throughout these scenes, Bunuel illustrates a bigger strategy by giving a case study of poverty — already in the opening scenes of fancy, grand images of skyscrapers of a modern metropolis, the narrator says: "Almost every capital, like New York, Paris, London hides behind its wealth poverty-stricken homes...", hinting at the divide between the upper class which is built at the expense of a lower class, almost as in Yin and Yang, whereas he even hints at the theories of poverty, such as restriction of opportunities and a distorted meritocracy in which the only way to survive and climb through the ranks is through theft, murder, violence and other criminal activity. Even Pedro, who is given a chance to reform in a farm school, is sunk back by his old friend Jaibo, giving the movie a gloomy perspective of social determinism in a cycle of poverty from which there is no escape, evident also in the dark ending. An excellent film, reminiscent of the 'raw' aesthetics of 'Italian neorealism', and a surprisingly "normal" storyline for Bunuel.

Grade;+++

Monday, October 9, 2017

Rick and Morty (Season 3)

Rick and Morty; science-fiction comedy series, USA, 2017; D: Juan Meza-Leon, Bryan Newton, Dominic Polcino, S: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Sarah Chalke, Spencer Grammer

Rick manages to escape from prison and destroy the Galactic Federation by ruining their currency, even though he was also persecuted by Ricks from alternate dimensions, who wanted to kill him, as well. The aliens abandon Earth, but Jerry seeks divorce from Beth, since she is unwilling to choose Rick over her husband. Rick thus continues his many adventures with Morty into parallel Universes. Finally, Jerry and Beth reconcile while Rick is abandoned.

Season 3 was the tipping point where "Rick and Morty" definitely lost the balance between the good and bad, falling into meaningless, repetitive episodes without any kind of point or strategy. Each season was weaker than the previous, and congruently, season 3 offers the least: it has only two truly great episodes (3.1 and outstanding 3.7), while the remaining 8 are weak and fall too often into trash. Similarly like "South Park" or later seasons of "Family Guy", even "Rick and Morty" sailed into 'extreme entrtainment' by deciding to keep the viewers' attention through splatter violence, disgust, ill-conceived ideas, shlock and shock, instead of relaying on some sophisticated narrative and inspiration. Rick is far more interesting as a character when he talks about his cynical philosophy about life, yet here he was demoted to a simplistic action figure. Episode 3.3, in which Rick has transformed himself into a small pickle, and thus has to battle cockroaches in the sever, is probably the worst episode of the show till date, whereas bad ideas run galore, from a giant Summer whose skin has been turned inside out by a laser ray in 3.5 through Morty vomiting a three feet long green worm hanging from his mouth for a minute in 3.8. Actually, in one episode, 3.9, it is discovered that a kid, Tommy, has been trapped in the imaginary world of "Froopyland", and thus mated with the creatures there so that they could breed creatures with human flesh, which he would then eat himself to survive, so Rick himself ironically says: "That's it! I'm out of here!", and then opens a portal and escapes as soon as possible with Beth. There is no reason for the viewers not to feel the same, as well. The only highlight is episode 3.7, a stroke of genius and intelligent writing, by showing the Citadel, a place where all the thousands of Ricks and Mortys from other dimensions gather to form their own society, yet fall into the same corruption and injustices against themselves - but alas, to get to that episode, the viewers have to pave their way through a mass of rubbish of inferior episodes.

Grade;+

Friday, October 6, 2017

Fast Five

Fast Five; action, USA, 2011; D: Justin Lin, S: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot

Dominic is about to be transported to a prison, but his sister Mia and friend Brian crash the bus with the convicts and free him. They also steal cars from a traveling train, but Dom and Brian are captured by criminal Reyes who wants to know the location of one specific car with a microchip in it that contains data about the drug lord's money. Brian, Dom and Mia then escape to Rio de Janeiro and decide to to escape Reyes' persecution by teaming up with Han, Roman, Tej, Gisele and others and steal Reyes' money. At the same time, agent Hobbs works with the Brazilian police to arrest Brian and Dom. Dom and his team break into the police station, attach the vault with Reyes' money and escape with cars. A car chase ensues in which Reyes is killed. Hobbs gives Dom a 24 hour break to escape. Brian and Dom split the money and enjoy their exile.

Part five of the long and hyped "Fast and Furious" action film series was probably the first contribution that amounted to a good film, managing to somewhat lift itself up from the routine chase sequences, even though the writing and dialogues are still often dry, ordinary and conventional. The convoluted plot takes a while until it agrees with itself where it wants to go, but once it does, it sends the franchise outside the usual car races and instead turns it into a heist film, offering a few interesting new elements that give it freshness, whereas it also helps that the plot does not take itself too seriously, often resulting in amusing irony. One of the best examples is when Gisele (excellent Gal Gadot, who is especially responsible for adding more charm to the cast) walks towards criminal Reyes in a bikini and sits on his lap, whereupon he touches her butt. However, later on, it is revealed Gisele did that only because she had a special layer on her bikini which captured Reyes's fingerprints, which her team intends to use for the heist, which is amusing. The final 10-minute chase sequence in which the two cars are dragging a giant vault across the streets of Rio de Janeiro, which sometimes smashes into cars and walls during the street curves, all the while being pursued by police cars, is great and almost reaches the insanity of "The Blues Brothers" in its sheer comic destruction. The simplistic storyline was thus saved thanks to a few new ideas, as well as by performances of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.

Grade;++

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Zulu

Zulu; war / action / adventure, UK, 1964; D: Cy Endfield, S: Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, James Booth, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, Mangosuthu Buthelezi

The British Army has established a base in Rorke's Drift, serving as its outpost for colonialism and irredentism into Southern Africa. On 22 January 1879, some 150 soldiers assembled into the 24th Regiment on Foot find themselves surrounded by a 4,000 men strong Zulu tribe that wants to attack and destroy their base. Even though greatly outnumbered, Lieutenants John Chard and Gonville Bromhead are determined to stop the attack. The Zulu tribe attacks them from both sides, some of their soldiers manage storm into the base and set the hospital on fire, but the Regiment manages to repel them and survive. The next day, the Zulus retreat.

One of the most popular British movies of the 60s, a real life  depiction of a British army Regiment resisting a siege of an army 20 times their size in 1879, "Zulu" still seems fresh and exciting even today, owing that to a good sense for suspense and action sequences, as well as authentic locations in South Africa, which are aesthetic and offer good shot compositions. Even though some of its themes are rather dated or seem questionable (especially by reversing the event to seem as if the Zulus are the enemy for resisting, and not the British colonialism and imperialism which tried to enslave the peoples of that area), "Zulu" is still a fine film and even established the then unknown actor Michael Caine as the new hope of British cinema. The first half drags, spending too much time on the life of the British army in the base, even though numerous characters are so flat they are barely distinguishable from each other, yet that is overturned an hour into the film when the Zulu siege starts, displayed through exciting images and anticipation of suspense: the camera pan of a thousand Zulu warriors standing at the top of a whole giant hill, overlooking the base, still sends shivers down the spine. Equally as great is the moment when the British soldiers are confronted with Zulu warriors shooting at them from the hills, almost as if they are standing right above them or the long line of hundreds of Zulu warriors stretching across the meadow, to a warrior in a close up. This siege last for the almost the whole second half of the film, and works splendidly. "Zulu" is basically a British 'African western', depicting a stand-off where the weaker ones manages to stop the enemy despite all odds, and despite a slow start, it manages to ignite and keep the viewers attention for the whole second act.

Grade;++

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism

W.R.: Misterije organizma; documentary / erotic satire, Serbia / Germany / USA, 1971; D: Dušan Makavejev, S: Milena Dravić, Ivica Vidović, Jagoda Kaloper, Tuli Kupferberg, Zoran Radmilović, Jackie Curtis

A film crew is making a documentary about the controversial German scientist Wilhelm Reich who escaped from Europe to the US and developed a theory in which sex is the ultimate means of liberation of people, and that all the dictatorships were just manifestations of repressed sexuality. He died while his books were declared pseudoscience and burned. Numerous people are interviewed... A man with a machine-gun is walking through the streets... Women are sent to sexual therapy... In Belgrade, Milena is highly sexualized woman who thinks that Communism should include sexuality. She meets a Soviet artists, Vladimir Ilyich, a highly political communist, and tries to seduce him. He reaches an orgasm - but immediately kills Milena by cutting her head off, not being able to cope with the liberation of his repressed sexuality.

Dusan Makavejev's bizarre satire "W.R.: Mysteries of Organism" became the only film from the whole of Yugoslav cinema that Roger Ebert included into his "Great Movies" list, yet it seems that this is more the result of the critic's lack of knowledge about the cinema from that country than some genuine greatness of the movie in question. Dozens of superior Yugoslav movies were made, yet "W.R." was remembered for its numerous controversies, resulting in a ban from Yugoslav authorities, and even by today's standards the movie can shock the conservative audiences. A part of its disconcerting impression lies in the fact that this is practically five short films glued into one, yielding a narratively confusing picture, since the film starts off as a documentary about Wilhelm Reich (claiming that each person has an average of 4,000 orgasms during their lifetime), then switches to numerous interviews about artists and their sexual art (one scene even has Nancy Godfrey stroking the penis of a lying man, only to then make a cast of his erection), then finally to the main story involving Milena (excellent Milena Dravic) who wants to promote free sexuality.

Her highlight is obviously her comical "political" speech towards people in an apartment complex ("No excitement can ever equal the elemental force of the orgasm. That's why politics attracts those among us whose orgasm is sub-standard, defective, disturbed or premature!... Deprive them of free love, and they'll seize everything else! That led to revolution. It led to fascism and doomsday. The goose-stepping, mass-marching orgasm! The bloodstream orgasm of the alcoholic or junkie! The cerebral orgasm of dogmatics or religious mystics!"). It implies that all the dictatorships are just manifestations of sexual repression, resulting in a black humored, but delicious ending in which a Russian communist reaches an orgasm - only to then kill Milena, unable to cope with the fact that all his loud ideology was just a sexual compensation for his virginity and impotence. This message was so subversive, even implying the Tito-Stalin split as a fight of sexual liberation, that the movie was even banned in the USSR, as well. Makavajev's attempt to blend sexual revolution with communist revolution is not for everyone's taste, especially since numerous archive footage is sometimes garbage and could have been cut, yet there is a deeper meaning in all of this mess, when one thinks about it at the end, which makes its cult reputation somewhat justified.

Grade;++

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rick and Morty (Season 2)

Rick and Morty; science-fiction comedy series, USA, 2015; D: Wes Archer, Bryan Newton, Dominic Polcino, S: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Sarah Chalke, Spencer Grammer

Morty is again doing crazy adventures with his eccentric scientist grandfather Rick, travelling through various dimensions or alien planets: Rick meets his ex-girlfriend again, an alien beehive entity called Unity; an alien instills fake memories in them and disguises as hundreds of absurd cartoon characters, claiming to be part of the family in the house; Rick has to visit a miniature AI world inside his battery, created to generate energy for him; Jerry and Beth undergo an alien marriage counseling; after a wedding goes awfully wrong and the groom, Birdperson, is killed, Rick gives himself in to the Federation so that his family can return safely to Earth.

Even the second season of the highly popular "Rick and Morty" comedy series did not manage to lift itself up from the level of a "mixed bag", since it contains both moments of genius which are then followed by several ill-conceived or misguided ideas, most notably in a couple of disturbing depictions of murder which are treated with an incompatible lightness, as if nothing happened, which is suppose to be funny, but only falls flat as morbid. Two and half great episodes — 2.1, 2.3 and one half of episode 2.5 (the first half involving a satire on religion is brilliant, but the other half involving Rick and Morty trying to sing for the giant heads in the Universe are lackluster and lame) — yet the remaining seven are a lot weaker, whereas this is also a ratio that is weaker than the first season — meaning that in reality its quality is still a notch bellow all the hype surrounding it. The worst episode is probably 2.7, involving a bizarre marriage alien counselling in which a machine depicts Jerry's vision of Beth as a black Xenomorph while Beth has a vision of Jerry as a slimy, disgusting worm, and their visions then escape and start killing everybody for no good reason justifying this concept, while the worst joke is probably found in episode 2.10, where Rick and his family go to an exile on an Earth-like planet — only for the Sun to rise and "scream" at them, which is just plain stupid. Yet, it deserves to be seen for two highlights: one is episode 2.1 which features a "fractured" time, presenting a split screen in which Rick, Morty and Summer are in two parallel times, with only minimal differences: the viewers will have to pay twice as much attention to notice all the details in it. The second one is 2.3, featuring a surreal metaphor of Rick having a relationship with the "beehive" alien entity Unity whose consciousness spans millions of people on a planet, which offers him the opportunity to sleep with several women wearing Unity's mind at the same time. And it ends with a striking philosophical, even emotional contemplation about how even controlling a million people cannot compensate for the emptiness of life, the nature of free will and Totalitarianism, the question if a character is willing to either change to keep his love or to stay alone to keep his own identity he loves. There are some interesting themes here in several episodes, ranging from artificial intelligence, infinite regress or the unreliability of memory, but it would have been far better if all the garbage surrounding them was edited out.

Grade;++

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Victor and Victoria

Viktor und Viktoria; musical comedy, Germany, 1933; D: Reinhold Schünzel, S: Renate Müller, Hermann Thimig, Anton Walbrook, Hilde Hildebrand

Viktor is a struggling actor, but cannot find a job because his dramatic interpretations are often comical. During an audition, he meets actress Susanne who also cannot find a job. Viktor informs her that he sometimes plays a woman, Viktoria, in a Cabaret, but since he has a flu, he persuaded Susanne to jump in to save the show. Susanne thus pretends she is a man playing a woman, and finds great success among the audience. An agent approaches Susanne and she signs a contract to continue performing. In London, she meets Robert, who falls in love with her, insisting that she is a woman, even though Susanne tries to pretend she is a man. Even more problems arrive when a woman, Ellinor, falls in love with Susanne, thinking she is Viktor, a man. Finally, Susanne and Robert kiss, while Viktor takes over the role of Viktoria as a comedy act.

Even though it was met with overwhelming enthusiasm by German film critics during its premiere, and subsequently gained the status of a classic in its country of origin, Reinhold Schunzel's transvestite comedy "Victor and Victoria" feels dated by today's standards due to its stiff narrative and dry-overlong musical sequences, some of which are even used in ordinary dialogues that rhyme. It is axiomatic that Edwards' film "Victor/Victoria", filmed 49 years later, is easily superior, displaying a rare situation where an American remake towers over an original. While the two main actors, Herman Thimig and Renate Muller, are very good, they are not convincing at playing the opposite gender, which is especially aggravating for Muller who is suppose to carry the film as a woman pretending to be a man playing a woman on stage, since her high, feminine voice leaves little ambiguity. Worse still is that all the rich potentials of the tantalizing premise were scarcely exploited, leaving many situations underused. Some of the best jokes still arise from the man-woman confusion  — for instance, Viktor releases four geese from a cage so that the two performers have to chase them and leave the male locker room, giving Susanne a chance to change clothes without anyone noticing that she is not a man. In another good scene, Robert jokingly informs Viktor that he is challenged to a pistol duel due to a bar fight, so Viktor shockingly leaves the room, only to accidentally stumble into some sound stage where a performer wearing Cowboy clothes is randomly practicing shooting. While good is exploring the men-women relationships and identities, "Victor and Victoria" still seems like a 'rump' version of these themes, too timid to truly give them justice, most noticeably in the abrupt ending, though it has charm.

Grade;++

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rick and Morty (Season 1)

Rick and Morty; animated science-fiction comedy series, USA, 2013; D: John Rice, Bryan Newton, Stephen Sandoval, S: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Sarah Chalke, Spencer Grammer

The 14-year old Morty is annoyed by his eccentric grandpa Rick, a scientist who often brings him along on his misadventures, ranging from trips to another dimensions through aliens to problems involving Rick's inventions going out of control. Morty's sister Summer and their parents, Jerry and Beth, whose marriage is on thin ice, also unwillingly get involved into Rick's misadventures.

Justin Roiland's and Mark Harmon's surprise hit animated show is the ultimate example of a mixed bag: episodes 1.3, 1.4 and 1.10 are excellent, but the quality of the rest of the first season is highly uneven, since some are solid, some OK and some outright bad. Aggravating all of this is the fact that even in some bad episodes the authors can still conjure up some incredible examples of wisdom about life, using the most surreal and bizarre grotesque as a metaphor for something in our society. It is almost like 'Sophocles meets "Family Guy"': rarely has there been a show that offers a whole spectrum of quality, ranging from genius to garbage. Episode 1.3 is one of the best, turning into the most black humored Christmas episode in TV history: in it, Rick brings a man dressed as Santa Claus home, but the latter falls into a coma, so Rick shrinks Morty to a size of a microorganism and sends him into the man's body. At the end, Rick simply loses his patience since he cannot find a microscopic Morty, so he takes the naked dead body of the Santa Claus, flies off into space and instead enlarges the man's body ten thousand times, thereby inevitably returning Morty back to his normal size. This results in a Zenith of absurdist humor, rarely seen anywhere, with the expressionistic sight of a giant naked Santa Claus floating in orbit over the whole of America, his toes being spotted in L.A. and his head in New York. Episode 1.10 also rises to the occasion, involving a situation in which Rick is confronted with hundreds of Ricks from hundreds of parallel Universes, which gave a wealth of potentials, ending in a remarkable "hidden" compliment Rick makes to his Morty: "I am the Rick-est of them all, which means you are the Morty-est of all Mortys". Throughout these wacky stories, "Rick and Morty" displays a secret philosophy on life and the Universe, yet it is not always presented in an intelligent way. Episode 1.4 is a sly satire on the 'brain in a vat' argument, but episode 1.7, on the other hand, is a rather lackluster take on sexism: the concept of an alien civilization in which women rule while men are kept as an inferior race does not offer anything new that hasn't already been explored in "He-Man" episode "Trouble in Arcadia", for instance.

Too many episodes focus only on degenerate monster aliens (the above mentioned episode 1.7 has these women having extra hands on their ears (!?)) or shock, and attempt to seize the attention of the viewers more through bizarreness than through some genuine inspiration. Aren't the praying-mantis-human mutants in episode 1.6 pure trash, for instance? Isn't the alternate Universe TV commercial in episode 1.8 of two people eating Leprechaun's intestine pure junk? And yet, just when the viewers dismiss such stuff, the authors suddenly redeem themselves thanks to an unexpected example of genius. Episode 1.6, for instance, is terrible, but has a fantastic beginning and an ending, by presenting Rick who explains to Morty his unrequited love:"Listen Morty, I hate to break it to you, but what people call "love" is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage!" Episode 1.8 is also just a random collection of inconceivable, surreal and disturbing TV channels from alternate Universes, but it ends in one of the most inexplicable, genuine, miraculous, virtuoso and beautifully touching endings ever seen, a small gem: throughout the episode, it has been established that Morty's and Summer's dad, Jerry, has never married in an alternate Universe and became a major movie star. At the same time, Beth finds out that without being married to Jerry and not having kids, she could have pursued a great career as a real surgeon in that world. This leads a crisis of their marriage. But at one point, Jerry observes his alternate Jerry driving in underwear on the street on alternate TV. At the same time, Beth is watching her alternate ego through special goggles, living alone in a house with birds. Suddenly, these two realities become one when alternate Jerry stops and knocks on the door of alternate Beth, to announce: "Beth Sanchez, I have been in love with you since high school. I hate acting, I hate fame... I wish you hadn't had that abortion and I never stopped thinking what might have been." Jerry and Beth, back in the real world, then realize that they are living precisely in that 'what if?' Universe, drop everything, reconcile and kiss in the living room. This is a highlight that, although unable to fully compensate for all the questionable content before, is still going to be remembered for a long time.

Grade;++

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer; silent drama / musical, USA, 1927; D: Alan Crosland, S: Al Jolson, Mary Dale, Eugenie Besserer, Warner Oland

Jackie Rabinowitz wants become a jazz singer, but when he is caught singing in a pub, his strict, orthodox Jewish father forbids him to continue and beats him up, because he wants Jackie to succeed him and become a cantor in a Synagogue. Jackie flees from home and makes great progress as a singer in New York, falling in love with Mary, a stage dancer. Now renamed, Jack returns to his home to see his mother, but is again chased away by hist father. On the premiere of a career defining performance on stage, Jack decides to not show up and instead sing as a cantor in a Synagogue because this was the last wish of his dying father. However, he gets another chance and performs as a singer in a theater.

"The Jazz Singer" signalled a new era of cinema, an era of sound film, yet even though it was a smash hit and the highest grossing movie for almost a decade, it was kind of a cheat: the movie is 20% a sound film and 80% a silent film. It was still an incomplete, semi-sound film where the audio was used only for the singing of the hero and one sequence when he talks with his mother while playing the piano for her, yet the majority of the story is still a silent film, even using intertitles for dialogues of the characters for most of the time. Despite this technical innovation, "The Jazz Singer" remained only a footnote in film lexicons since it feels very dated by today's standards. It is basically a simplistic story of a man torn between following his dream and the tradition of his family, yet it never rises to the occasion, neither in writing nor in execution. This storyline is a dime a dozen, basically almost a soap opera with banal narrative flow, whereas it simply lacks highlights. There is very little to see, stylistically or story-wise, and the long sequences of singing tend to become tiresome and dry. That is why "The Jazz Singer" is today only valuable formally for the cineasts, yet does not hold a special place in the heart of many movie goers.

Grade;+

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jigoku

Jigoku; fantasy / drama / horror, Japan, 1960; D: Nobuo Nakagawa, S: Shigeru Amachi, Yoichi Numata, Utako Mitsuya, Akiko Ono

Shiro is a young student who is engaged to Yukiko, the daughter of his University professor, Mr. Yajima. One night, he was together with the classmate Tamura who drives a car and accidentally hits and kills a yakuza member on the street. Shiro is plagued by guilt, but Tamura tries to whitewash any wrongdoing from them. Shiro's life just goes downhill from there: while trying to report everything to the police, the taxi he was in has a crash from which Yukiko dies; Shiro returns to his home where his mother dies from a disease, while his father is cheating on her with a mistress; the yakuza's girlfriend, Yoko, tries to kill Shiro, but dies by falling from a bridge... Finally, all the inmates in the house die from poisoned fish and find themselves in hell. Shiro observes how all the people he knew had dark secrets one way or another, and how they are punished for these in hell. He is stuck trying to save his and Yukiko's unborn baby who is rotating on a giant wheel.

"Jigoku" is a dark and depressive fantasy-horror drama in which director Nobuo Nakagawa displays a grim perspective on life that is doomed to end in all kinds of tragedy and despair: for him, there is no escape from this "doomed if they do, doomed if they don't" cicyle, depicting how his characters are plagued while they were alive, only to be plagued once again in hell. However, it seems Nakagawa lost context from the film, almost as if he himself is unsure what this has to do with the overall theme of the storyline. The "normal", first part of the film, could have worked much better if it was changed just a little bit: the protagonist, Shiro, is plagued by guilt of a man who was killed in a car he was in, and the hell could have been just a symbolic representation of his bad conscience. If Shiro drove the car himself, this would have worked, but since the car driven by his friend, all of this guilt is not quite fitting. Unfortunately, Nakagawa somehow lost this simple perspective and included numerous other characters who also landed in hell, even those who had no fault, which seems uneven and pointless, unless it is a sardonic commentary on life that crudely punishes everyone, from those who are guilty to those who are innocent. The film drew attention thanks to its bizarre hell sequences which comprise the last 38 minutes, which stand out thanks to their outstanding special effects for that time (the "dune" valley with a river underneath it; demons sawing a man in half or taking the skin away from another man, leaving him only with a skeleton and organs underneath; the row of skeletons on a dark valley...). It is also interesting that the movie demolishes all the institutions in this segment by including all the characters in hell, from the police (an inspector who framed an innocent man), journalism (a false news article ruined the life of a man) up to medicine (a doctor erred with false diagnosis, but was too proud to admit his mistake). Still, all this could have been presented in a better way, since the ending is rather abrupt and pointless.

Grade;++